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Tooth Bleaching Trays Compared

Other than whitening strips and paint-ons, all at-home tooth whitening systems rely on trays (also called mouthpieces) to deliver the bleaching solution to your teeth. But all bleaching trays are not alike. Which are best and what are the trade-offs of using the others?

Basically, tooth whitening mouth trays come in three types: Custom, Thermoplastic (Boil and Bite) and Generic ("One size fits all").

Custom Teeth Bleaching Trays

Custom tooth bleaching mouth trays are devices manufactured in a dental lab from an impression of your teeth. If you opt for a tray-based whitening method done in your dentist's office (or purchase a take-home kit sold by your dentist), you will be fitted for custom trays. You can also order kits where you make impressions of your own teeth at home and send the molds to the dental lab.

Needless to say, custom trays give the best results - as long as the impression is taken properly. It isn't difficult to do, and the sellers of home kits include detailed and illustrated instructions. Just follow the instructions and you will get a set of re-usable bleaching trays made just for you!


  • High-quality, re-usable teeth whitening trays which fit your teeth perfectly.
  • Tray covers all your teeth, including your back teeth (molars) for complete and uniform whitening.


  • You have to wait from time to send the impressions to the lab until you receive the finished trays to start bleaching your teeth (usually no more than a couple of weeks).
  • At-home whitening kits with custom trays are slightly more expensive.
  • They can't be redone if you make a bad tooth impression - follow the directions carefully for the best results.

Products/Manufacturers offering custom tooth whitening trays:

Thermoplastic ("Boil and Bite") Trays

Don't want to wait for custom trays? Thermoplastic trays are a highly satisfactory alternative, giving fast results nearly equal to custom (dental lab) trays at a lower price! Thermoplastic trays come out of the package as a curved piece of flexible plastic with a tab on the front. To shape them to your teeth, you heat them, to further soften the plastic then, holding them by the tab, you place them in your mouth and bite down firmly (hence the common name "boil and bite"). When the plastic cools completely the trays will retain the impression of your teeth.


  • Like custom trays, these fit well, are reusable and cover all your teeth.
  • Fast and easy to use, no waiting weeks for them to be manufactured.
  • Less expensive than custom (dental lab) bleaching trays
  • Can be reshaped if you make a mistake taking the impression


  • Forms may not be an ideal fit for very large or very small mouths.

Buying Thermoplastic Mouth Trays:

Generic "One Size" Tooth Bleaching Trays

Generic teeth bleaching trays are sold with the least expensive tooth whitening products. As the name implies, these are flexible trays intended to fit everyone, but since peoples' teeth are not all the same, we aren't big fans of these "one-size-fits-all" trays. Some folks may get perfectly satisfactory results, however since they do not fit closely to your teeth and gums they are prone to uneven bleaching and leakage of the whitening solution. Some "one size" trays only cover your front teeth, yielding results similar to the use of whitening strips.


  • Inexpensive
  • Use as-is, right out of the box - no need to take impressions of your teeth.


  • Many only cover your front teeth. For some people, they may not bleach all the teeth that show when you smile.
  • Bleaching solution is not applied evenly
  • Whitening gel or liquid more likely to come in contact with your gums, tongue and soft tissues of your mouth causing irritation (and it may not taste very good either!).

Products sold with "One Size Fits All" Trays: